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The Independent Spirit of The Community Library

Sara Sheehy's picture
Sara Sheehy

I’ve visited The Community Library in Ketchum nearly every week for the past nine years, and my routine is always the same. I return the smile of the front desk library staff before swinging by the stack of newly arrived fiction. I then dive deeper into the shelves to seek out a great book or two. Today, a chilly afternoon, I perch on the stone hearth to warm my back at the library’s roaring fireplace before flipping through a magazine.

The Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho

I feel at home here, and by the look of it, so do many others. Patrons say hello to friends and neighbors, search for books, and read newspapers in the sunny nook at the back of the library. A small group sits in the Regional History Department poring over the extensive collection on Ernest Hemingway, the literary giant who once called Ketchum home. Students of all ages have laptops and papers spread over tables, tackling homework and doing research. Library staff ready the Lecture Room for the evening speaker.

Ernest Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho

This library and this sense of community, was the dream of 17 pioneering local women who longed for an intellectual and cultural landscape in the Wood River Valley.

It was 1955, the tail end of McCarthyism, and the women wanted to avoid the censure and limitations that came with running a publicly funded entity. Each woman donated $1 to form the Community Library Association. Together they opened the Gold Mine Thrift Store in a one-room log cabin as a way to fundraise for their new library. Today, the Gold Mine continues to fund a portion of the library’s budget, with private donations accounting for the rest.

The first Community Library building was finished in 1957 on Walnut Street (now the site of the Gold Mine Thrift Store), and the current building on Spruce Avenue was constructed in 1977. The building continued expanding over the years, doubling in size before adding a Children’s Library, lecture rooms, and reference rooms.

The brave, thoughtful, and independent spirit of the founders lives in the Community Library today.  “The Community Library is a place where people come and create things; ideas and works of art,” explains Scott Burton, the library’s Program Director.

There are many features and programs that bring people to the library, Scott describes, such as researchers working on their next paper, patrons coming in for Tech Office hours to learn about their smartphone or tablet, history buffs cruising the materials of the Regional History Department, community members and visitors attending lectures and programs, and of course, the library’s fast wireless internet.

The Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho

More: Upcoming events at The Community Library

Because of the library’s unique private funding, free membership to The Community Library is open to anyone, regardless of their place of residence. The library has almost 15,000 library card holders around the world. Some come to the library regularly, as I do, and some have enjoyed it for a single summer or during a week-long vacation.

The Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho

With my back warmed nicely and an open book in my hand, I look around at some of the library’s newest renovations. Infrastructure updates are in the works to create a fresh, modern library with increased places for people to convene, create, and focus. I watch as a construction crew frames new bathrooms - the first of many updates to this historic building.

The Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho

I walk to the front desk to check out my small stack of books and my gaze lingers on a black and white picture of the 17 founders breaking ground on The Community Library in 1957. The women are smiling widely, one looking cheekily from the high seat of a front loader. I nod in thanks for their vision and perseverance, before heading out into the cold crisp afternoon air.

Founders of the Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho

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